John Smale graduated from Miami University in 1949 and joined Proctor & Gamble in 1952. Initially working for what was then called the toilet goods division, he quickly rose through the company. He became the president in charge of all US operations in 1974 and chief executive in 1981. He added the chairmanship in 1986. Under his leadership over his 43 year career, P&G entered 23 new countries, added 15 business categories, and doubled annual sales. He enjoyed his work at P&G and the company will reap the benefits of his leadership for years.
In 1982, while he was the president and chief executive officer of P&G, Smale joined the General Motors board of directors. In 1986 he was names chairman of the board of that company and held the post until his retirement in 1990. During his time at GM, Smale made remarkable changes in leadership, in management structure, and fiscally. He served on the GM board until 2002.